How Pennsylvania put racial equity into redistricting – maps reflect state’s growing diversity

How Pennsylvania put racial equity into redistricting – maps reflect state's growing diversity

Vidya Sethuraman
India Post News Service

A multi-racial coalition of organizations achieved a redistricting success story for Pennsylvania’s voters of color despite intense partisan politics bent on restricting voter access. Speakers at the EMS briefing on June 2  shared lessons learned and next steps in fighting for fair maps and fair elections. Despite great efforts, many communities are systematically excluded. The district maps of states such as Texas, Alabama, North Carolina, and Florida, among others, are, in fact, less than fully representative of minority communities compared with the 2011 map.

Maria del Carmen Gutierrez, Senior Director of Membership, Casa said her organization operates in York County and Lancaster County, and shared that everyone has to pay taxes, so we have to give them the opportunity to elect people to represent them, in their locality, not to consider them as outsiders. Her organization must run many training classes so that members can understand how maps are drawn, so that they can raise related issues.

Salewa Ogunmefun, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Voice said “I’m a little bit biased but I will say Pennsylvania has the best district house maps of any I have seen. It is a partnership of 50+ organizations working together to expand power for communities of color. The coalition registered a lot of voters before the 2016 Election. The disparity in education and economics really stems from the lack of representation. And to change these issues, we need to rethink how the district is divided and because our partners weren’t able to organize for victory on the issues because they were prevented by the way our maps were actually drawn.

When we look at the statistics, we see that there are 22.5% ethnic minorities, including people of African, Asian, Hispanic descent. But when we look at the number of state legislators right now, we see 90% white, 75% male, and that’s the problem. And after a period of struggle, we have achieved remarkable success, having six more seats representing people of color.

She also advises that if other organizations want to do this, they should start six to seven years in advance, and start talking to the community, explaining how important it is to draw a district map. 

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